PLAYING for your country is the pinnacle of most sporting careers, but for Josh Walne wearing the Three Lions is more than a personal achievement. It is about being a role model, showing children with learning disabilities that they can still achieve their dreams.

Walne struggled through school after being diagnosed with dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Life at St John’s Primary School and St Theodore’s High School was difficult for the 22-year-old, who had to battle nerves as well as his learning disabilities.

But football was always his escape, and it is a path that has led, so far, to a promising non-league career and to international honours.

Since 2011 Walne has played for the England Learning Disability (LD) team, wearing the Three Lions at Under-21 and senior level.

And in March 2014 he captained his country as the U-21s lost 3-2 to Northern Ireland in Belfast. It was a far cry from the difficult days at school in Burnley.

“It was the best moment ever. It was in Belfast, my family came to watch me, it was a once in a lifetime moment,” said Walne, who this season is playing for Padiham in the North West Counties League Premier Division.

“I love playing for England, to play for your country is amazing. I’ve got a couple of England caps now and I’ve got them in the trophy case.”

England LD games might not be watched by thousands, they might not get much media coverage, and the players might not be household names. But that doesn’t make the achievement of wearing the Three Lions any less worthy, and it doesn’t mean that Walne and his teammates don’t get the same kind of treatment as Wayne Rooney and co.

“It’s a couple of games every year, we have training camps as well. It’s a professional set-up,” said Walne.

“We have training camps at St George’s Park. It’s amazing to play for your country. The facilities are great, they treat you like a professional. The pitches at St George’s are like carpets. It’s an amazing set-up, I love it.”

Walne has been abroad with England LD, played for England LD at the European Championships in Sweden in 2012, and he was "gutted" when a trip to the LD World Cup in Brazil was cancelled.

And he is now setting his sights on making the squad for another European Championship campaign, with a tournament due to take place in France this summer.

It’s a far cry from those days at school.

“When I was at school I was very nervous,” he admits. “I was in the lower sets and whenever we had tests I had to go in a different room to do it and people used to say ‘what you doing in there?’, and I got very nervous.

“But now I’ve got a lot of confidence and I’m not ashamed to say what I’ve got. That’s come about through football.”

Walne went through trials to make the England set-up when he was playing for Nelson, who he left this summer for Padiham.

And making the national squad has given him an opportunity to show others that having a learning disability doesn’t have to stop you from achieving your goals.

When the opportunity to become a My Sport, My Voice ambassador came up, he jumped at the chance.

“It came about through England. I applied for it and they e-mailed me back to go for an interview at Manchester City’s ground,” he explains.

“I showed them why I wanted to be an ambassador. I got an e-mail a couple of weeks later and they said I can either be a rep or an ambassador, and they wanted me to be an ambassador.

“I was delighted with that. It’s amazing to be an ambassador for people with learning difficulties in the UK.

“They contact schools, universities and business in my area and we try and make them more aware of people with learning disabilities.

“I do talks, I did one in front of 300 people to tell them my story and where I’ve come from and how I’ve achieved my goals.

“Just because you’ve got a learning disability don’t be ashamed, you can achieve whatever you want to achieve.”

It’s an inspirational message.

Walne is in no doubt that sport, and particularly football, have given him the confidence to move forward and achieve what he wanted to achieve - and more.

He has spent the last nine months volunteering for the Danny Ings Disability Project and has recently started to work there on a casual, paid basis, combining his love of football and inspiring others to reach heights they may never have imagined.

Walne is starting 2016 targeting success with Padiham and England — and the chance to inspire more people who are in his shoes by telling them: “You can achieve whatever you want to achieve.”